Provisions: Mele Ukulele

News & Politics

You want to make your own entertainment? You could do worse than getting a ukulele. Even more portable than guitars and easier to learn (fretting is much more forgiving), they are yet capable of great musical sophistication. With that in mind, while you can find $99 ukes, they probably won’t be much better than a toy and will ultimately prove frustrating.

Two Thanksgivings ago, my brother and I convened at our parents’ house in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The night before, we decided to drop by a party an old high school friend was having. When we got there, I realized I hadn’t done one of these hometown Turkey Day pre-games since college.

Things had changed. We were a bunch of middle-aged professionals in sweaters and khakis gathered around a kitchen island under bright lighting to discuss the real estate market and our triathlon times.

Alcohol helped. So did my solid koa soprano ukulele, which I’d the foresight to bring. My brother, though a seasoned guitar player, had never picked up a uke before. No matter. I showed him a few chords, and he was off to the races, providing a much needed dose of merriment. Here’s a clip of him warming up the crowd, not long before a spontaneous 80s hair metal sing-a-long broke out. (Drunk moms love to sing Poison):

That uke he’s playing comes from Mele Ukuleles. Mele began crafting its gorgeous, extremely playable ukes on Maui in 1993; since then, countless professionals and amateurs alike have used them to spread “the sweet sound of Aloha.”

Mele Ukulele

Category: Musical instruments

Founder: Michael Rock

Founded: 1993

Location: Waiehu, Hawaii (Maui)

Representative products:Mele mango soprano, Mele koa top guitarlele, Mele mahogany tenor with abalone shell inlay

At a glance:

  • Mele has three retail locations, all on Maui.
  • The company’s top-of-the-line instruments are made completely on Maui; others are partially assembled by luthiers in the Philippines and Mexico before finishing by Mele.
  • Genuine koa wood, from which Mele makes some of its ukuleles, is found only in Hawaii

In its own words (Mele sales rep reached at the Wailuku location):

[Tourists] get sticker shock. Especially ones that come from Europe. They say, well, I want to buy a genuine Hawaiian-made ukulele for under $200. And you would be surprised how common that is. What we say to potential customers is that, you know, this is not a or a souvenir. This is real, professional, great instrument and people all over the world perform with them. I perform with it. I make money playing the ukulele. And I’m not going to play a Chinese piece of junk professionally.

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